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January 27, 2020 10 min read

If you’ve been searching for that magical move at the gym that will give your body an all-in-one, full-body workout, you’ve come to the right place. The kettlebell (particularly the Russian kettlebell swing) works your core, legs, and arms while combining the perfect mixture of cardio and muscle-building.

You can burn fat and increase muscle that way.  If you don’t have hours to spend at the gym every day, this can be the perfect workout for you to get the results you’re looking for in a simple, efficient, and effective way. 

What Are Kettlebell Swings?

The kettlebell swing starts from the ground and ends at eye-level, which means it goes beyond classic moves like a deadlift or overhead press. In fact, it activates all the same muscles, so it creates serious results. Working with kettlebells means explosive movements.  They get your glutes and hamstrings, core, and biceps all in one swipe. 

Benefits of the Russian Kettlebell Swing

What are your goals when it comes to getting your dream body? Are you looking for one daily workout you can do every day before work and still get great results? Are you looking for something to change up your routine that you can do once a week? Either of those options works well with the Russian kettlebell swing. It does a lot of good in just one motion. 

It’s a Full-Body Workout

As mentioned earlier in the article, the kettlebell doesn’t just target one muscle group but instead covers a whole range. With this move, you will get your glutes, hamstrings, lats, abdominals, back, and shoulders. 

Some people go to the gym just to beef up their “showy” muscles. For example, they want to have big biceps so they do crunches. The problem with this is actually more serious than just having an unevenly shaped body. There are health problems that come from focusing on just one muscle group. 

Your body needs to have evenly distributed strength throughout it to keep you safe from injury. You could easily pull your weaker muscles when you’re on the way to crunching something heavy with your stronger muscles. Besides, if you build up a strong base from the kettlebell swing, your individual muscle groups will be much more adaptable to strength-building than if you started them from ground zero. 

You Get Cardio and Strength in One Move

With most cardio workouts, you get some strength benefits, When you run, you gain muscle from going uphill, cycling gives you core and leg strength, etc. But with the kettlebell swing, you get a very even amount of both, rather than a lot of one and a little of the other. With these types of explosive movements, you’re using a heavy weight in a fast movement. You will find yourself totally out of breath and your muscles on fire. Believe it or not, that’s the way you should feel during your workout! 

You’ll Get Killer Endurance

The more painful the workout, the stronger you become...both physically and mentally. The mental strength you gain from persevering in the Russian kettlebell swing will make you feel like you can do anything. It will stretch you further than you thought you could go and test your capacity for keeping on. This will do wonders for you in the gym, but will also spread into the rest of your life

Many people start working out because they want to change their bodies, but in the process, they find out it changes their whole life. Establishing an effective workout routine means you have a reason to get out of bed early. Instead of snoozing your alarm clock until the last minute and eating fast food on the way to work, you are more likely to get up on time and eat a healthy breakfast before work. 

Reaching and surpassing your goals in one area of life will make you more confident and likely to do the same in other areas. If you are on your way to achieving a healthy lifestyle, you are on your way to excelling in your career or family life as well. 

Exercise boosts mental health in a powerful way. When your body is feeling clear and healthy, your head is more likely to follow, helping you get along better with the people in your daily life. 

A kettle bell on the ground.

You’ll Improve Your Posture and Reduce Back Pain

One of the main causes of bad posture is a weak muscle structure. People who don’t have a strong lower back are more likely to slouch because their muscles get tired more easily. 

Did you know bad posture leads to back injuries?

Especially when working out, if you regularly stand or sit with bad posture, you will be more prone to injuring yourself. You need a solid structure that can support the stress of rapid muscle growth. Even when you’re not at the gym, it’s important that you regularly practice good posture to keep that base as steady as possible.  

The Main Difference Between Russian and American Kettlebell Swings

Why is this article about Russian kettlebell swings and not American ones? Why do the two countries do them differently? 

You may not know this, but in the 17th century, the first type of kettlebell weights originated in Russia.

They were triangle-shaped weights used to measure corn and grain. After some time, these weights were changed into something the people used specifically for strength training. Over time the shape was optimized to be the round-shaped weight with a “kettle” handle on top. 

Both types of kettlebell swing are useful, but the Russian swing is more true to the original form. The main difference is the kettlebell overhead. With the American swing, the kettlebell is raised past the shoulder to a position directly above the head. The Russian way stops when the arms are directly in front of the shoulders. 

What are the benefits? There is more risk of injury involved in with the American kettlebell swing. Especially if your weight is heavy, you place a lot of pressure on your shoulders by swinging the weight above your head. In the final position, that weight is resting there, all the pressure points directly pointed at your shoulders. If you are a beginner, the American swing is definitely a risky move. 

Some use the Russian kettlebell swing as an introductory move to the American. It can be tricky to master a kettlebell workout in the beginning. Using the weight requires balance since you are holding onto the handle and not the weight itself as is the case with more classic weights like the barbell or dumbbell.

You need to be able to keep the weight steady so it doesn’t wobble back and forth during the motion and cause problems. You also need to be sure you have the right size weight. If your weight is too heavy and you lift it above your head, that can result in serious damage. 

Mastering Form: What to Avoid During Kettlebell Training

One of the best ways to ensure good balance and correct weight is to master the form perfectly. Here are some things to avoid when setting up for the exercise. 

  • Don’t hunch your back: It’s a natural instinct for most people, but don’t let yourself do it! When you hunch forward, you take all the weight away from your hamstrings and glutes and put it on your lower back instead. This can cause serious injury. You may have heard the phrase, “Lift with your legs not with your back.” That rings true for the kettlebell swing too!

To avoid this, you should think about hinging at the hips, not at the waist. Another technique is to engage your core. You can do it by bracing your gut and making sure you feel that pressure in your core through hip extension, not your back. 

  • Don’t keep stiff knees: When lifting heavy weights, you should always bend your knees slightly. When they are stiff, they can seize up as the weight reaches its most difficult part. Your whole body gets involved with the task of lifting a heavy object. You have to tell it to focus on the muscles themselves, not the joints. Muscles are designed to grow and get stronger, joints should not have to endure too much pressure. 
  • Don’t lose control of your shoulders: Since your arms are straight out through the whole swinging movement, most of your motion control comes from your shoulders. Because of that, they need to be decisive and guide the body through the exercise to make sure everything lands where it should. If you keep your shoulders steady and secure, they will guide your arms to lift the kettlebell to its top position. 

How to Do the Russian Kettlebell

To begin with, choose a weight that suits you well. If it’s your first time, you should always start with something lower than you think you should. Once you try it out, you can always increase the next time. As always, the form is the most important to master before you start adding weight. With the Russian swing, your kettlebell can be heavier than the American swing. Since the American version holds a greater risk of injury, you must choose a lighter weight and do more reps for the perfect balance. With the Russian swing, you can choose a heavy weight and fewer reps. This is less cardio, but you will build strength faster and save time. 

Step 1: Set yourself up in the starting position. Place your legs shoulder-width apart, and start with the kettlebell in the triangle between your groin and knees. Inhale before you start the move, while the weight is at the starting position. 

Step 2: Bend at the waist to start the move, keeping your spine straight and neutral and your arms straight with a close grip. Exhale through the move, while your core is clenched and activated. Keep exhaling through the most difficult part of the movement. 

Step 3: Pull the kettlebell up in one motion, directly in front of your chest, keeping your arms fully extended. Make sure the motion is a hip-hinge movement. That means you must think of your body as a door, not like a bendable, foldable human. 

It’s a simple movement with a lot of theory behind. It’s crucial that you perform these three steps in the right form to get optimum results and minimum complications. 

How to do the American Kettlebell Swing

If you want to “swing both ways,” you can give them both a shot and see which one works for you. For the American variation, your general motion and movement will be the same. You will start at the same position, the move will be propelled with your hips and core. Your range of motion will be bigger since it goes beyond the shoulder and lands directly above your head. 

To ensure accuracy and safety, keep your chin tucked through the exercise. As you bring your weight above your head, tuck your keeps directly beneath your waist as well. Don’t let the momentum of the move pull the weight back further than above your head. When that happens, shoulders get pulled and, depending on the weight, even ripped out of their sockets. 

This may sound scary, but people have even been pulled backward by completing the motion with a weight that is too heavy for them. You could fall at the gym which would be embarrassing, but you could also drop the weight on your head from loss of balance. So remember to control your body throughout the exercise. keep everything in line, and keep the pressure on the muscles themselves, not the joints or the back. 

A girl working out with a kettle bell.

Perfect Kettlebell Workout

The Russian kettlebell swing can be done by itself as a total body workout, but can also be incorporated into a general kettlebell routine. This routine is recommended once a week if complemented by other types of weightlifting on the days. If not, complete it three times a week to get the best benefits. This workout can be done with a lighter weight for a powerful HIIT or CrossFit training, or you can use a heavy weight for strength training. Either option you choose, make sure to do a proper cool-down and recovery

Kettlebell Squat

You have two options for the kettlebell squat. The movement is done like a regular squat, with your legs lateral to the ground. As you rise to a standing position, drive the motion through your heels instead of your toes. You can grab the kettlebell with both of your palms on the top of the handle, positioned right next to each other and facing forward.

You can also grab the handle with your palms on either side of the handle, palms facing toward each other. The second is called the goblet squat, and it can help improve your squatting form. The position of your hands affects your body’s natural way of doing the motion and changes it closer to the direction it should go. 

Kettlebell Lunges

This move is very similar to lunges done with a barbell or dumbbell. The benefits of all these are mostly the same, but the advantage of a kettlebell squat is it can be done in a home gym without having to buy multiple types of equipment to get a good workout. Using the kettlebell during lunges can improve your grip and help your body get used to using the equipment. Because of that, more complicated moves like the kettlebell swing will be easy to get the hang of. 

Kettlebell Triceps Extension

Unfortunately, neither version of the kettlebell swing works your triceps.

If you want a complete workout, hold the kettlebell above your head with your arms fully extended and your palms facing backward. Lower the weight so your elbows bend as far as possible, then raise the weight back up to starting position. 

Alternative Move: Single Arm Kettlebell Swing

For a more targeted workout, you can complete the kettlebell swing with one arm at a time. During the move, you can hold your other arm out for balance, but make sure it doesn’t assist with the move. You want the focus to be on the arm holding the weight. Take care that your arm does not lose control and do a wide swing as it goes upward. Follow the same do’s and don’ts as the standard kettlebell swing when it comes to form. 

Enjoy Your Results From the Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebell training is optimal for all gym-goers and fitness enthusiasts. Kettlebell workouts are recommended to runners and cyclists who want to build up their stamina and increase their endurance on the road.

The Russian kettlebell twist can be a workout on its own, or a great warm-up to an intense lifting session. It will energize you, not just in the gym. It will increase your general energy and help you think more positively. That can make you more creative and productive. Aside from all that, you can build a rock-hard body. That alone is incentive enough, right?